Book Review: Anna by Niccolo Ammaniti

Everyone knows I love a good apocalypse fiction, and this is a marvellous, although bleak, rendering of a world where a mystery virus has wiped out all the adults, and children die soon after they reach puberty*.

The story focusses on Anna, a pre-pubescent girl living on Sicily 4 years after the outbreak. She steals food, collects water and tries her hardest to keep her younger brother alive and safe. When he is stolen by a gang of children hell bent on sacrificing the last adult alive, Anna risks everything to get him back.

There are no holds barred in this book. Ammaniti takes childhood and twists it into the hedonistic, terrible thing it would become without the social niceties adults press onto kids. Anna thrusting her hand into her vagina to check if she has her period is something I can well imagine happening with no one to say ‘that’s not nice to do in public’. Living amongst rodents and empty food containers, stealing clothing and getting drunk on scavenged grappa are artfully portrayed – this is not graceless writing, this is a careful examination of the breakdown of polite society. There are times when you will want to look away because the rawness of the characters is heartbreakingly real.

One thing I didn’t like was the use of drugs/alcohol/chaos to blur scenes – I can’t decide whether I just don’t understand all the subtext, or whether it’s lazy writing designed to hide a lack of plot movement. She’s drunk, she’s in a crowd where she can’t see, there’s explosion and suddenly – oh look, there are Pietro and Astor and everything is ok again (for a little while). I like stuff to be shown, or even told, rather than being ‘trusted’ to fill in the gaps myself. Damn brain doesn’t work like that!

It’s a well researched novel – what foods are still ok, what medicines would last, the general degradation of buildings and reclaiming by greenery is all fairly accurate. There are tragic scenes and joyous ones in a nice mix that keeps you hooked. The ending is bleak as fuck, but remember this is post-apocalypse fiction and Ammaniti is known for his darkness. The dog is a nice touch, I love Maremmas. It’s a nice afternoon read (it’s raining and windy here, so kinda fitting) at 275-odd pages and anyone who likes realistic end-of-the-world books with no holds barred will enjoy it.

 

****/5

 

*When I’m not so shellshocked, I’ll ponder the actual possibility of this.

 

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Yes, I know

I’ve done that thing where I’m reading, but not reviewing. And actually I’m not even reading that much – uni has kicked my ass this semester (I’m doing forensic anthropology post-grad full time) AND I managed to somehow smash my laptop while holding it, and then Avalon smashed my ereader the following week. Cue $550 in fix-it costs that there’s no way my poor student ass can afford that so fingers cross I get a job at QBD next week and we can soon return to our regular schedule.

In the meanwhile, go and read Assassin’s Fate coz it’s gooooooooood.

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short.

The ghosts in this city wish they could fade away. They try to sneak around corners, but the corners are gone, replaced by glass and chrome facades – the ghosts are shattered on the mirrored surfaces, the pieces flattening out on walls and slipping into oily pools on the concrete. The ghosts, once reassembled, congregate in the tiny pockets of old city that remain, confused by the constant change.

If I was a ghost, I’d seep into the concrete, through the quiet and cool into the thickness below, where the bones of the city lay, transected by water pipes and underground car parks. I’d wait, quiet and still, slipping my pellucid hands up through the layers to snare freshly made ghosts – their confusion makes them easy targets – and dragging them down to rest with me. We would wait, bolstered by time, until the glass becomes bones and the city becomes quiet.

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Book Review: Bound by Kirsten Weiss

Yes, two urban fantasy’s in a row. I promise I’ve been reading other stuff too – it’s just these are so quick and the reviews are so easy.

Didn’t like this as much as She Wolf, but it was still decent. It’s the story of triplet sisters who are all witches with different skills. The story focusses on Karin, who is seen as the practical, less-magically-inclined one. Facing the impending death of her aunt and guardian, and the arrest of her sister on suspicion of murder, Karin doesn’t need to fall in love right now, but who could say no to the handsome, charismatic and DEFINITELY interested lawyer, Nick? But there’s strange things happening all around her – murders, visions, runs of bad luck – and they only get more intense when her aunt admits to binding her powers and sets Karin free to use all of her magic.

If the story sounds like it’s a little all over the place, it is. There are so many threads that it’s hard to keep track of what is relevant and some of the threads go nowhere except a very obviously pending sequel. It’s like a cliffhanger, but more boring. The sisters, Nick and Ellen (the aunt) aren’t well developed characters, but they are likable nonetheless. The magical references are pretty vague, but I’d rather that than exact spells/recipes being interwoven (no one does that well).

I honestly think Weiss would have done better to put all three books together as just a single larger novel – I’m pretty sure she wrote the whole thing and then cut it into 3, but the cuts/edits after the cuts to attempt to tie up an ending are clunky. The dialogue is nice, the writing is ok, it’s just the overall structure and story that fall a bit flat.

2/5

 

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Book Review: She Wolf by Sheri Lewis Wohl

So there’s lesbians, werewolves and uhauling. All win.

This book is delightful, beautifully written fluff and I loved every minute of it. After plowing through a few non-fictions (I haven’t finished any, but I’ll get there), and the rich heaviness that was an Exaltation of Larks (stunning – hopefully I’ll remember to review it at some point) and Idaho, I felt the need for some fluff. I didn’t expect it to be so engaging (read over one night) and so well-written.

Lily is a werewolf, something she manages well (with medication) and uses in her job (hunting down supernatural creatures who don’t follow the rules). Ava is a witch, the other guy* is a necromancer with ADHD and together they are going to bring down the rogue werewolf who is macerating people in Eastern Washington. There’s two problems – this werewolf seems to be everywhere at once, and Jayne Quarle, the town’s sheriff doesn’t believe in anything supernatural, let alone werewolves.

The narrative is well done, with some nice twists and a sweet sex scene which is both believable and leaves enough to the imagination (I really don’t like reading sex when it’s written blow by blow – pun intended), and I didn’t guess the killer until the end. It was like 2am and I’d had a bit of wine though, so it may be obvious to everyone else. I like how Wohl circled round to Lily’s making (that bit at least was obvious) and I felt the love stories running through were honest.

It’s strange to read a paranormal, LGBTI romance novel and WANT everything to be believable, but I really do require that. It’s what pissed me off so much about that Marigny St book – no one would believe that romance. And before someone jumps on here and says “they moved in together after a week, that’s not believable” it totally is – look up uhauling on urban dictionary, happens more often that you’d think and I’m definitely guilty of it myself.

The story leaves plenty of room for a sequel (is Jayne slightly magic?) or a side novel (Ava and Kyle are adorable), the dialogue is well executed, the suspense is not heavy-handed, and as much as I like to say I never read Urban Fantasy if they were all written this well I’d probably read a lot more.

4/5

*Kyle. I looked it up.

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Book Review: Ashes by Steven Manchester

This had the promise of being a pretty good book, but it sucked. Following their father’s death, two long estranged brothers go on a roadtrip across a few states to ‘deliver’ their father’s ashes to an unknown address. Along the way they rediscover each other and forgive each other for the trespasses of their youth (and basically blame Daddy for everything). Once they’ve driven far enough to make up, there’s a magical surprise awaiting them at the end – their mother, whom they thought long dead, is alive and kicking. AND THEY JUST LEAVE HER IN THE NURSING HOME AFTER A DAY OR TWO VISIT AND GO BACK TO THEIR MISERABLE LIVES.

Oh and they go to church. Which is the whole point of the book, it’s meant to be about finding Jesus and forgiveness and the whole thing is a metaphor for Christianity being amazing, which is probably the reason I hated it because it’s DRIPPING with organised religion way before they mention going to mass (which is just awkwardly introduced midway because the author couldn’t figure out how to say LOOK, MY GOD IS AWESOME without just shoving our faces into it. So he gave up and shoved our faces in it).

Anyway, the so-called terrible childhood is actually not as bad as it’s made out to be. Other reviewers have said this book is filled with essential, elegant and intricate truth, but it’s basically the mumbled wankery of someone who imagines what the results of an abusive childhood would look like in two middle aged and completely unremarkable men, then arranges it around his need for everyone to worship his middle class white dude god. I actually wanted to put this down so many times, because I couldn’t bring myself to pretend to care about what happens to the characters, but I am on this kick of finishing every book I start (Beauty sleeping has been read chapter by chapter, slowly and painfully). Do yourself a favour, and don’t bother picking it up when it comes out mid Feb, 2017.

1/5 stars. Actually, is zero stars a thing? 0/5.

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Book review: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

I grabbed this book from netgalley for a review, y’all can read it in a week or so when it comes out.

 

This is a shocking book. The crime it’s based on will make you suck your breath in and clench your fists. It’s brutal and cruel and tragic.

But what is most shocking is the beautiful, eloquent, quiet way the story around the crime is rendered. This book is soft-paced, it builds (rising and falling like breath), it wrenches at your heart and it fills you with a longing that you can’t quite explain.

It’s the story of May and June, sisters born 3 years apart.

It’s the story of Ann who teaches piano, loves her husband, and can never quite escape the question of blame.

It’s the story of Jenny and Elizabeth, who find an awkward but enduring friendship in an ugly place.

This is a book about women, and about those people who women love. It starts on a mountain, with Wade felling trees to allow a helicopter to reach a pregnant Jenny if need be. Years later, another winter, Wade and Jenny drive their girls to the next mountain to collect firewood and it is here the unspeakable happens (literally – Ruskovich NEVER actually replays the moment itself, just those leading up to it and immediately after. It’s as if the act itself cannot be written because it’s too horrendous). Again, years pass, and Ann finds herself in the same truck, trying to uncover the truth of her husband’s past in order to save his future.

The story jumps between years and decades, going all the way to 2025, where Ann and Jenny – now old women, almost unrecognizable even to themselves – leave the mountain at last. The nonlinear narrative form adds to the story and also helps build a sense of Wade’s increasing dementia – even as the years are announced, it’s uncertain what will be uncovered, a fight between May and June over dolls, a man lost in the snow, Jenny adding to Elizabeth’s mural – these tiny acts add to a life (or to the loss of one) and slowly uncover the overall story, which spans three generations on the prairie and the mountain. There’s a sense of menace which is slightly offset by the gorgeous, ripe prose. This is an author who understands deeply what it is to be a woman, to love and be loved in return, to despair and be despaired of. Ruskovich’s grasp of family devotion is essential to the story. Her knowledge of the landscape shines (she was raised in northern Idaho), and she graciously allows us moments of pure grace amongst the horror (“May feels tired. Happy, and tired…She begins to do what she often does just before her eyes close. She decides to forget things”).

There are a few detours I didn’t like – I felt like the one legged boy’s story was a little out of place, and the bloodhound, and Adam. Not that they don’t belong there, and they add to the narrative, but it’s strange to jump to a male perspective for those particular chapters. I would have preferred the dog to be female, Eliot’s story to be told by Ivy (or Julia). Adam’s story….well, I guess that had to be told by Adam himself, but it’s strange and jarring to have male voices in a mostly-female narrative. And not in an interesting/good way.

But all in all, probably the second best novel I’ve read all year and just stunning. It’s one that will stay with me for a long time.

4.5/5

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